Rooted: A Creative Connection to Place
At the beginning of the month we went away for two nights. Sorting out what I needed prompted me to think that not so long ago it took me as long to pack my photo bag as my case. Holidays were opportunities to travel – away from cities, often towards the coast – and to spend more time photographing the landscape, shaping where we went and where we stayed.
Now, even here, I take out only one small camera. Truth is I can count on one hand the number of times in the two years since we moved that I’ve been out with my full frame DSLR. So long as what I have lets me do what I want, that’s enough, and I value my compact camera’s light portability and the reach of its zoom lens. I also find that I can only really work with one camera at a time. Once I’m tuned in, the differences in the way that I see and work with a different system are greater than my ability to reconcile them.
When it comes to holidays over the past few years, even when I have taken a full camera bag, the thought has also sat in my mind:
What will I do with these?
Will they move me on?
And often the simple answer is ‘No’.
My photography has become rooted to place. Undoubtedly moving out to live in the countryside in 2007 was significant, and stopping to look at water even more so. From looking out to looking down, and now looking through, water has fundamentally changed my vision.
Two years ago we transplanted ourselves from a place that I had not expected to leave, but the move fulfilled a quiet and long-standing ambition to return to Scotland. I’ve found plenty to engage my curiosity here, tuning myself into the quiet pools of water that come and go on the edge of the moss* and making a new creative connection to place.
* A lowland raised bog which has been colonised in part by pine and birch woodland, and afforested in others. The central part remains as bog habitat and supports a variety of heathland and wetland plant species. There are traces of historic peat cutting.
These are the subject of the image gallery ‘Ephemeral’. Looking back now, I can see that this grew from ways of looking at water that had already begun on the River Dove in the Peak District.
Beginning to update my website this summer led me to write the following:
I walk to the same small quiet places throughout the seasons, taking inspiration from the smallest of details as I wander through my local wood and peer into moss-lined pools. Where nature has begun to reclaim man’s marks amid birch, pine and moss I find a natural palette of soft colour with seasonal pops of bright, and reflected lines that bend but don’t break. As the pools rise and fall, boundaries break down. It’s a chance to breathe, to rest, to assimilate. My work has become quieter as a result and less explicit; blur has become a means of inviting permeability, of buffering, of regaining stasis and it increasingly accords with my own uncorrected view of this earth.
There are so many things that I could - perhaps should - do, so many places to go, but I find that there is a stickiness to place. I like to be able to walk from the door. My preferred experience of landscape is on foot and since I’ve been walking with a camera my pace has slowed.
It hasn’t taken me long to start to put down roots here, and to lean into the wind that frequently funnels up the broad valley. Anywhere else just isn’t the same. It could become so, but I would need to be more than just a passing visitor, a migrant bird. So when we travel, I pack light.
Periodically I write to try to understand this place, and my attraction to it. I spend most of my time in the woods that have established around the edge of the moss. The landscape is a juxtaposition. A broad glaciated valley with a rolling topography created by fluvio-glacial deposits and locally areas of raised bog. The numerous stones and boulders that any fork or spade connect with bear this out. A designed landscape for the ‘big house’ wraps around the moss, with tree-lined avenues, ponds and policy farmland. Pheasant covert. Naturally regenerated trees but up against plantations of Scots pine or fir and shelterbelts of larch, the latter largely lost to Storm Arwen in November 2021.
The water that I can find is largely managed - channelled, culverted and ditched to avoid being a nuisance and to make the land more useful. Not all of the tracks are surfaced and over time some have become infrequently used and vegetation is steadily taking over. One of these gives me access alongside an area of birch wood, between the moss and the arable fields below the house.
In March this year I asked myself:
What is there here? Not a track as such; too little used. The hint of a path on the map. A cut through between the moss and the farmed field fringing the big house. Lined by trees, grassed. Once functional*, now just here.
*On the 1870 Six Inch First Edition Ordnance Survey map it is more clearly defined as a track with a ditch to each side. Over time nature has done what nature does best.
What is here? I am here. Haunting the pools where the birch trees dip their toes. Lined with moss; sphagnum and star.
Enquiring of them. Peering past the broken branches, the lost leaves, the fallen flightless flies.
Watching the seasons shift. The slow greening trees. The water rise and fall and disappear. The gifts of yellow confetti. The ultimately decaying autumn. The ice drawn contour lines and radiating geometries. The trapped air. The brown water. The ever expanding galaxies of moss.
Seeing past their unkempt attire.
Looking at - beyond - an upside down world.
You could spend a life chasing beauty in other places only to come back and find it was lying at your feet, waiting for you to notice.
And now these small unremarkable things prompt me to mix photography with other media, and to follow the scent trail that leads me ever onwards to keep noticing. You'll find a selction of these in the image gallery 'Sillage'.
If you think that sticking to a place will limit your creativity and potential outputs, that has not been my experience. If you take some time to look through the galleries in my image portfolio, you'll find that there are many ways to see andt o re-imagine water, nature and land.
In between monthly posts on my website, I write a bloggy weekly Substack called 'Flow'. You can take a look and read past posts here and decide if you'd like to join me.